Sat Oct 30 05:34am EDT
Friday night's CFL clash between Toronto and Montreal saw one of the crazier endings in recent memory, and one that could only happen in Canadian football. Toronto led 30-20 heading into the fourth quarter, but Anthony Calvillo spearheaded two 90-plus yard drives that led to a field goal and a game-tying touchdown pass to Kerry Watkins, who just returned from injury this week. With the game tied at 30 and just over a minute and a half left, electric Toronto kick returner Chad Owens, superstar running back Cory Boyd and much-maligned quarterback Cleo Lemon led a drive that looked certain to have the Argonauts in position to attempt a game-winning field goal. However, Lemon rolled out and threw a pass too high for James Robinson; it bounced off his hands and was picked by Etienne Boulay. That gave Montreal kicker Damon Duval (pictured at left above, celebrating the win with teammate De'Audra Dix) the chance to attempt his own game-winning field goal, from 37 yards out with nine seconds on the clock, and that in turn laid the groundwork for an unbelievable ending.
The key thing to keep in mind here is that the CFL includes a rouge, or single point. A rouge can be achieved by kicking the ball through the end zone or kicking it into the end zone and preventing the other team from bringing it out. A rouge can be achieved off a punt or a missed field-goal attempt, and you can try to win a game by punting for a single, as Saskatchewan attempted earlier this year in a similar situation. A punt single attempt might have worked even better here, as Duval's second among regular punters with a 45-yard average, and he'd only need to put it out the side of the end zone. Still, the field goal is also a legitimate (if perhaps less optimal) strategy; Duval certainly has the leg to hit one from that distance, and if he misses, there's still the chance for a single.
If the field-goal attempt goes through the uprights, the game's over. If it's wide, though, a couple of different things can happen. If it goes out the back or side of the end zone, that's a rouge and the game's over. If it falls in the end zone, it's a live ball and Toronto can either run it out or kick it out. Rather than stationing Owens in the end zone to try and run it out, the Argonauts opted to send kickers Noel Prefontaine and Grant Shaw to the end zone, along with receiver Mike Bradwell. They then would have the option to run the ball out of the end zone and kneel down, sending the game to overtime, or kick it out if they were under too much pressure. That sets the stage for the zaniness you're about to see:
What exactly happened there? Well, Duval misses the kick (which, in fairness, is from the left hashmark, so it is a more difficult angle than a straight-on field goal). However, his kick has more than enough power to go through the back of the end zone, so you'd think it would sail out for a game-winning single easily.
Not so fast. Bradwell,a second-year wide receiver out of McMaster University who mostly plays on special teams, makes a terrific athletic play to dive and knock the ball down before it clears the back line. The live ball's then loose in the end zone, and the Alouettes' cover team is closing in quickly. Bradwell scoops it up and gets a rushed punt off just before an onrushing Alouette is able to block it. It's a terrific play by the Argonauts, and one you'd think would be good enough to send the game to overtime.
Not so fast. Bradwell's punt is pretty decent for someone who isn't primarily a kicker (probably around 35 yards or so-he appears to be about 15 yards deep in the end zone and gets it out to about the 20), but the speed with which the Alouettes' cover team got downfield meant he didn't have the time to angle it properly and get it out of bounds. He couldn't boot it straight out, as there's still a bit of time on the clock while the ball's in the air, and that might give Montreal the chance for a do-over on the field goal (and Duval famously made the most of a similar opportunity in last year's Grey Cup). The ideal punt here would clear the end zone, have a good hang time and then fall out of bounds after time expires, but that wouldn't be particularly easy to achieve with no rush. With Bradwell having to first dive to keep the ball in bounds, then scramble to pick it up and then get a punt off before the cover team reaches him, that would have been almost impossible. Still, he gets the punt off and gets decent hang time on it, and the clock hits zero. The Argonauts still have plenty of men downfield, and you'd think they can surely wrap up whoever comes up with the punt, sending the game to overtime.
Not so fast. Despite missing the field goal, Duval (an Auburn product and former Jacksonville Jaguar and Atlanta Falcon who's been the Alouettes' main kicker since 2005, but was playing his first game in weeks thanks to injury) remains actively involved in the play. He starts heading downfield with the rest of the Alouettes' cover team and is in perfect position to snag Bradwell's punt. Under the CFL's no-yards rule, members of the punting team (the Argonauts here) have to be five yards away when the returner catches the ball, so they can't wrap him up instantly. Duval thinks on his feet and quickly punts the ball right back into the end zone before Toronto can bring him down. It's not a great punt, given how little time he has, but it should be more than enough to bounce through the end zone for a single.
Not so fast. Shaw makes a tremendous play to block the bouncing punt, but there are Alouettes all over him. He doesn't even have time to pick the ball up, but boots it with his foot nonetheless. I believe this counts as a legal drop kick, which any player can perform at any time, so there's no issue there. However, it bounces off an Alouette or two before Toronto native, former Nebraska star and current Montreal special-teamer Dahrran Diedrick is able to fall on it. That gives the Alouettes a game-winning touchdown (after a quick review to make sure opposing players were at least five yards away from each returner when they caught the ball), and it gives us all an ending to remember.
There are a lot of important things to take away from this contest. For the Argonauts, despite a better-than-expected performance against one of the league's better teams, it has to leave a sour taste in the mouth. The loss was the final nail in the coffin of their (admittedly-slim) dreams of hosting a playoff game this year; they fell to 8-9 on the season and can no longer catch the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (despite Hamilton's own pasting by Calgary later Friday night). Instead of having a chance at second place in the East heading into the season's final week, Toronto's now locked in to the third and final East Division playoff berth.
Friday's game also demonstrated the highs and lows the Argonauts are capable of providing; electric special-teams play from the likes of Owens (who had four kick returns for 123 yards, four punt returns for 111 yards and a 70-yard punt return touchdown that was called back thanks to an illegal block, and became the fifth CFL player ever to reach 1,000 punt-return yards and 1,000 kick-return yards in the same season), an incredible rushing and receiving game from former South Carolina Gamecock Cory Boyd (eight carries for 68 yards and a touchdown plus four catches for 79 yards, making him the team's leading receiver Friday as well) and a lacklustre quarterbacking effort from Lemon (13 completions on 23 attempts for 163 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, made even more underwhelming if you subtract the 79 receiving yards Boyd mostly picked up on runs after short passes). There are still big questions about this team heading into the playoffs, and many of them are about the man under centre (even if he can do a good Jim Mora impression).
Montreal didn't have anything on the line heading into Friday's game, as they'd already locked up first place in the East. They're now 12-5 on the year, but what they did against the Argos matters more than the result. The 17 unanswered points they scored in the fourth quarter made them look like the dominant Alouettes of old, not the underwhelming lot that got pummelled 40-3 by Hamilton last week and started Friday's game slowly. Calvillo was back in world-beating form, completing 30 of 44 passing attempts for 412 yards and three touchdowns without a single interception. Montreal also received strong performances from returnees Watkins and Avon Cobourne. Still, in the end, this clash came down to Duval's swiftness of mind and Diedrick's fleetness of foot, and they delivered a performance that will not soon be forgotten.